The Venezuelan government is continuing to inspect businesses that are overcharging for goods and has closed down over 50 websites that had been promoting the black market exchange rate.
The Institute for the Defence of the People’s Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis) has been inspecting a range of chain stores and forced those that are charging well above normal profit levels to sell at a more “fair” price. The measure has resulted in large queues outside the relevant shops.
Price reduction on over priced goods
Yesterday during inspections authorities found irregularities such as overpricing, lack of information on shelving, hoarding, selling expired goods, tax evasion, and other administrative irregularities. Shops found to be responsible for such irregularities included Lacor, general store Dorsay, wood shop Imeca, hardware shop Centro Ferretero El Pico, textile shop El Castillo, and the Los Proceres shopping centre.
Vice-president Jorge Arreaza said authorities found overpricing on wood of up to 421%, and 587% on hardware.
Centro Ferretero El Pico in Miranda state was found to be lacking an inventory, with mark-ups of up to 2,150%.
In Tachira state 1,575 fridges and stoves being hoarded near the border were confiscated, and will be sold to people at “fair prices”. The Lacor shop in that state was fined for “unjustified price increases” in its toy and white goods departments.
At Dorsay a television was being sold for Bs 44,600, overpriced by 175% percent, according to minister Hector Rodriguez. An iron was on sale for Bs 740, overpriced by 180%, pants for Bs 1,070, overpriced by 114%, and a doll for Bs 2,856, overpriced by 54%. The minimum monthly wage is Bs 2,973, or Bs 4,110 including food tickets.
At the Los Cortijos Dorsay outlet, following the inspection, people queued up to buy products at “fair prices”, and the local communal council gave people numbers so that they didn’t have to remain waiting in the queue.
The president of the Indepabis, Eduardo Saman, told press he had met with the board of the company Acumuladores Duncan yesterday morning. The company, which sells heavy-duty batteries, agreed to lower its prices by 25%.
The inspections follow the temporary occupation by the government of the electronic appliance chain Daka over the weekend, which was found to be charging consumers up to 1,200% above the import cost of goods.
Further, at a march yesterday of 15,000 transport workers, the president of the transport workers’ union, José Betancourt, said that vehicle spare parts are also overpriced. He said that tires, which cost Bs 3,500, are being sold at Bs 14,000. Workers at the march also called for the modernisation of Venezuelan transport, the creation of a driving school, and a transport bank, and more spare parts providers.
President Maduro, who used to be a transport worker, told the march the government would create a Transport Mission to help the workers with their demands. He also promised to meet today with spare parts manufactures in order to guarantee “supply and fair prices”.
Maduro also announced at the march that the government would begin to inspect wholesalers. “Just like we’re protecting consumers, we’re going to be tough on wholesalers who receive preferential dollars and sell at a mark-up to small and medium businesses… enough of the robbery”, he said.
During his speech Maduro also alleged that the “economic war against Venezuela” is being planned from the US.
“The actors of the economic war are the Federation of Chambers and Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela (Fedecamaras), the National Council of Commerce and Services (Consecomercio) and the Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Venamchan),” he said said.
The director of the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel), Pedro Maldonado, announced yesterday that the organisation blocked “over 50 websites” which were “dedicated to establishing artificial values for buying and selling the [US] dollar in the country”. The official exchange rate is fixed at 6.3 bolivars to the US dollar, however websites and other agencies, as well as speculators have pushed the black market rate up to 50 bolivars to the dollar.
Conatel met with Venezuela’s main internet service providers on Saturday. They are Cantv, Movilnet (publically owned), Movistar, Inter, Supercable, and Netuno (privately owned). Maldonado stated that in the meeting his organisation established the support of the providers to restrict access to such sites.
Courts and militias
As of yesterday, a total of 77 courts, 25 of them for appeals, will be dedicated exclusively to “economic crimes”, high court magistrate Gladys Guiterrez announced. Cases the courts will decide on are those linked to economic crimes such as speculation, hoarding, usury, boycott, fraudulent alteration of prices, fraudulent alteration of supply and demand, contraband, looting, and other crimes that come under the Law for the Defence of People’s Access to Goods and Services.
In most states there will be one court, while the states of Aragua, Anzoategui, Bolivar, Tachira, Carabobo, Zulia, and Metropolitan Caracas will have 2 to 4.
According to Major General Vladimir Padrino, 1,500 militias are being mobilised to “protect the people” and “confront the economic war”. He said other militia are also supporting the National Guard in protecting electricity plants and hospitals.
New joint venture with Uruguay
Uruguayan president José Mujica met with Maduro in Caracas yesterday. The presidents ratified the continuation of various ongoing agreements, and also agreed to create an electrical joint venture between Venezuela’s Corpoelec, and the Uruguayan factory Urutransfor.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told press that the government’s measures against overpricing were “political” and demanded that the government “publish the list of companies receiving US dollars at the official exchange rate”. However, the list of companies is permanently available on the CADIVI homepage.
Another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, said, “Maduro … is calling for looting, we could say he is a looting president… we here, in [opposition party] Voluntad Popular, we want to make Nicolas Maduro responsible for… any irregular situation, any violent act that happens from now on, because it is the government …which instead of examining the causes of the problem, is telling the people to take justice into their own hands…[he’s] creating a situation of chaos… he’s looking for an excuse to suspend the elections”.
In less than four weeks Venezuela will be holding municipal elections. Shortages and hoarding are common occurrences in the lead-up to elections, but in the context of the death of President Chavez, this time the economic problems have been more intense, with accumulated inflation from January to October at 45.8% and the black market exchange rate reaching ten times the official rate. Accumulated interest for the same period last year was 13.4%.